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Far Eastern "far" and "close"

Leonid Blyakher on the distances. Essay No. 1

Far East

Leonid Blyakher

Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Culturology of the Pacific State University, Doctor of Philosophy
Almost every resident of the Eastern outskirts of Russia at least once in his life came across a situation when his acquaintance from the western part of the country asked me to convey greetings to his "neighbor", living for 600-700 kilometers from him. In any case, I, a resident of Khabarovsk, are regularly asked to convey greetings (or even a parcel) to Blagoveshchensk (700 km) or to Vladivostok (750 km). Particularly attentive interlocutors even convey greetings to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (2000 km) or Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (911 km). And phrases such as "Thailand is near you" or "You are with China's neighbors" and completely introduces into a stupor.

Once it seemed to me that the problem was that people at school did not study geography well, hoping for cabs. Well, there are, of course, and such. Especially on federal channels. Then they have the Primorsky region, the Amur region. But in the mass of it we are talking about absolutely other things. The place of residence of a person is always in the center. And the rest - the further, the more compressed. I myself often in a conversation put Kaluga or Tula in the suburbs. 

So it occurred to me to speculate how the space for us residents of the Far East is located. It is clear that "to speculate" about this to me is more convenient from Khabarovsk. That's from him and start.

There are "base" points forming the coordinate system of the Far East. That is, such places after which the abstract "far" begins unconditional and for the greater part of the population. Firstly, it is the "West". To go "to the west," to return "from the west" - a phrase that constantly misleads non-local people. The locals know for sure that "in the West" is not in Europe and not in America, but simply an indication of direction. The place with which the "West" is associated for the speaker is connected, as a rule, with the limit point where he happened to visit. It can be not only Moscow, Krasnodar or St. Petersburg, but also Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk or even Irkutsk with Chita.

With the "east" is also not all simple. It is quite understandable that one must have a great deal of imagination in order to realize, living here, Turkey or Iran as the "east". However, there are such options. However, more often the "east" is associated with Japan and Korea. Oriental goods are from there. China, by the way, also sometimes acts as an "east". But then it is about "our", northern China.

Another point of coordinates for Khabarovsk will be the "north". They also are different depending on his biography, profession, family and other traditions. "North" may be relatively close to Nikolaevsk-on-Amur, or slightly more remote Okhotsk. And for someone "the north" - this is the tundra and the pole of the cold near Oymyakon. Not for everyone, although for many, "Magadan" will be "the north". Nevertheless, the coordinate is present: "north" - this is where it is cold so that it is impossible to live.

The south is easier. The South (and this is quite traditional) is the place where we go to rest. Hence the geographical specificity of the "south". The traditional south, coming from the Soviet times, is the coastal zone of Primorye. In the post-Soviet years, the resorts of Northern China were added to this south. Later - Hainan, Thailand, Bali, Saipan Island, etc. Depending on the material possibilities, the concept of "south" was located geographically in very different places. The important thing is that the south, and north, and east and west are different here. This sets a special - regional - model of space. I will try to describe it.

It is possible to single out several spatial "circles" that form the world of a resident of Khabarovsk. The first is "very close". It starts at the nearest holiday village and stretches for several hundred kilometers around. There are buses and electric trains. This space is one way or another tied to the usual economic and social practices, the traditions of joint recreation, to all that is called the clever word "everyday life." Or even easier - "life".

Far Eastern distances are long, and kilometers here are long and confusing. But the Far East are used to them. Therefore, "close" can be 200 kilometers, or even more. For example, from Khabarovsk to Birobidzhan or vice versa (174 km) more often they will not "go", but "hit the road". So fast. Roundtrip. Like from Butovo to the center of Moscow. They go hunting in the Jewish Autonomous Region. The pheasants are fabulous there. They say that boar hunting is also good. But he himself was not. And what a problem - to drive a hundred or two kilometers for the sake of real male pleasure. Fishing is also better for 200-300 kilometers. Only to the north, not west. This is all "very close."

A little further, but also "close" is the triangle Vladivostok - Komsomolsk-on-Amur - Blagoveshchensk. It's somewhere 500 - 700 km. There is no longer a "roll", and "go." You can even "fly" when it comes to Vladivostok. Actually, the borders "close" are set not so much in objective length as in accessibility. Say, Vanino from Khabarovsk (540 km) is far away - a very difficult and not very convenient road, which began to ennoble even twenty years ago, but it still will not finish completely. True, now the port has become "closer" - there began to go by bus.

There is also a second parameter: how spatially are friends (social connections). Here, and Nikolayevsk-on-Amur with its "winter road" instead of the road and the freezing port may be quite "close" (936 km). Quite "close" are the border cities of China. Until recently it was there that the people of Khabarovsk went for shopping. And not even as "shuttles", but simply for a new coat or some kind of lady's accessories.

Today shopping in the border area has changed direction, but the trips have not stopped. They go to rest, sit in a restaurant, stay without the risk of constant calls to the mobile phone. Such neighbor China is for every city in the South of the Far East. There - signs in Russian, sellers and hotel receptionists also speak Russian. Conveniently. For Blagoveshchensk this is Heihe, Khabarovsk for Fuyuan, for Suifenhe in Vladivostok. Nearby and beloved by the pensioners of the region are resorts of northern China. They have long given preference to the local resorts Shmakovka and Kuldur. The reason is simple: the conditions are better, the prices, even given the expensive yuan, are lower.

All this is "close" also because it is affordable for most of the townspeople. It is not exotic. This is where difficulties arise. Even "inside" the region, a trip to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky or Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is not available to everyone. Expensive, difficult, inconvenient. And most importantly, for the overwhelming majority of the population in the southern part of the region, it is not clear why. What is “far away” and what they are, we will talk in the next essay.  
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